I’ve had my iPhone 4S about a week now. It’s quite simply amazing and so much better than my iPod Touch (with which I was already delighted). But all the tiny things make a huge difference. Speed, superior camera, better build, the convenience of the always-on Internet, GPS, compass, etc.
I’ve now got a bit more used to shooting with it (mainly with the excellent Camera+ app) and can deliver my verdict. Drum roll… it’s absolutely fabulous! In fact the camera is a strong contender for the one thing I most love about the iPhone 4S. So what’s so good about it — it’s only a phone camera after all, right?
To answer this, first, let me say where I’m coming from. My ‘normal’ camera is a DSLR — a few years old admittedly but still a decent enough camera (a Canon 400D). Early on I abandoned the kit lens (18-55mm zoom) for a couple of bright, good quality (and cheap) prime lens: a Canon 50mm f1.8 and a Canon 35mm f2. Even though neither lens allows me to zoom in and zoom out, they both more than make up for it in terms of optical quality: I get lovely, contrasty, sharp images with the option of having a very shallow depth of field if so desired. Because both lens are bright, I almost never have to resort to flash. For all the convenience of zoom lens, you lose out massively in terms of optical quality. I find instead that the prime lens forces me to be more creative. You have to learn to photograph with whatever is available to you and both of these lens make excellent walk around lenses — versatile, light and a field of vision that will get you most shots.
So, how does an iPhone 4S compare? Well it’s a completely different beast — in some ways you’re comparing chalk with cheese. With the right lens, set-up and photographic skill, the images produced by a DSLR can easily blow the iPhone 4S out of the water. However, see the way I said ‘With the right lens, set-up…’? That’s the crux — the iPhone 4S is always with you and at almost any point you can whip it out of your pocket or bag and take a photo (it’s really quick to power on). I have my DSLR with me a couple of hours each week max. As the adage goes, the best camera for the job is the one you have with you.
OK, so the same could be said for any phone camera. What’s so special great about the camera in the iPhone 4S? The best review I’ve read on this is by Ars Technica. Your experience may differ but here are the main points I’ve noted so far:
- Overall, the quality of pictures is excellent. In good conditions it’s hard to distinguish them at a casual glance from photos taken with a dedicated camera
- The focal length is wide (sometime like 28 on a traditional camera) but there’s very little distortion.
- White balance is excellent — the colours in photos are rarely washed with unnatural hues because they were taken under artificial lighting for example.
- I can almost always take photos without flash — because of the bright f2.4 aperture, the sensitive sensor, the usable nature of the higher ISO settings, and the tolerance the camera seems to have for even quite long exposures (e.g. 1/15)
- I get as many ‘keepers’ as I do with my DSLR, if not more
- The basic IOS camera app is OK but it’s well worth upgrading to Camera+ — great interface and you can independently set the focus and exposure which doesn’t sound like a big deal but it is
- Haven’t used HDR much so can’t really say much about that
- There are lots of useful and fun photo apps available — effectively you end up carrying around with you not just a camera but a darkroom and a photographic distribution network!
- PhotoStream is really great — it allows you to seamlessly upload photos taken with your iPhone to all your devices and access them from anywhere
- Because the iPhone 4S has an 8MP sensor, it’s perfectly fine to crop images to a smaller size (e.g. to focus in on a particular detail) and still have a useable image size at the end
- It works perfectly as a portable scanner — you can take a photo of a page in a magazine say and read it afterwards no problem!
- It’s got quite a decent macro capability
The things that took me a bit longer to adapt to (and which I still half hope Apple might some day do something about):
- There’s no way to specify the aperture which maybe isn’t such a big deal
- There’s no way to set the exposure which is more of a big deal — the way the iPhone handles low light is by increasing the shutter speed and then boosting ISO — higher ISO means more noise so, it would be nice if you had a tripod for example, to be able to keep the ISO low and just set the exposure for longer (e.g. several seconds)
- There’s no way to manually override the auto-focus
But they’re minor gripes — really minor. As I said above, you have to make use of the equipment available to you and the restrictions force you to be more creative.